<span class="vcard">Craig Calcaterra</span>

New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner speaks to reporters in the lobby of the hotel hosting the baseball owners meeting, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Associated Press

Hal Steinbrenner defends the Aroldis Chapman acquisition by invoking “innocent until proven guilty”

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The Yankees traded for Aroldis Chapman recently. The same Aroldis Chapman who was investigated by police — and subsequently not charged — for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing several shots from his gun during the course of the altercation. When meeting the media today, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner had this to say about it:

“In this country where allegations are brought against a person,’’ Steinbrenner said in his first public comments on Chapman, “that person is completely innocent until proven otherwise. Not the other way around. I think we should keep that in mind right now . . . I understand it is a very sensitive subject, as rightfully so, but we just have to wait and see. It’s a touchy subject, but again, a man is innocent proven guilty.’’

While it is certainly true that, in the criminal justice system, “innocent until proven guilty” is our standard, the invocation of “innocent until proven guilty” in this case is beside the point. There were no charges brought against Chapman in our criminal justice system. There remains, however, an investigation by Major League Baseball pursuant to the league’s new domestic violence policy which specifically states that its standards are not the same as the criminal justice system. He could quite easily not be charged by law enforcement yet still be suspended by Major League Baseball even if he’s not “proven guilty.”

Likewise, none of us, if publicly alleged to have been involved in an ugly, violent incident would ever be given a “get out of controversy free” card by virtue of saying “hey, innocent until proven guilty.” We’d be subject to condemnation by our peers and possibly discipline by our employer. We’d possibly have to forfeit professional licenses and fundamentally alter the manner in which we carry out the relationships in our lives, all without ever once being “proven guilty.”

Indeed, it is because this is not the subject of the criminal justice system — a system which is notoriously inadequate at dealing with matters of domestic violence, it should be noted — that “innocent until proven guilty” is not an adequate response here. It’s a copout. Aroldis Chapman’s status as a New York Yankee is a matter of public perception, not criminal sanction. It is about the message being sent by a sports team to its fans, not about the sentence being handed out by a judge. It is about the stuff that team owners, the media and the fans love to talk about when the news is good — character, integrity, makeup and poise — being serious, serious problem when it involves a guy who is alleged to have done some seriously heinous things. What of that, Hal?

No one is proposing that Aroldis Chapman be blackballed. No one is saying that he should be prevented from plying his trade. But Hal Steinbrenner should not for one moment think that the invocation of a completely irrelevant standard in the face of a very serious situation should end the discussion about his acquisition of player who, overnight, has become an understandable lightning rod for legitimate criticism. Hal Steinbrenner is going to benefit from every save Aroldis Chapman notches for the Yankees this year. Should he not talk about what makes him OK with his fortunes rising and falling on Chapman’s performance? Should he not acknowledge that a lot of Yankees fans may be uneasy about Chapman being on the team? Should he not appreciate that the very act of acquiring Chapman has put a good number of Yankees fans in a situation where they may have a much harder time supporting the team than they did before he was acquired?

That’s the real point here: the tradeoffs everyone involved here is making yet no one seems to want to talk about. Now would be a great time for Steinbrenner to engage the fans of his team and the media which covers it and talk about what a player’s character and off-the-field conduct means and what it doesn’t mean. When a transgression is too great to be ignored no matter how talented the player in question or if there is such a point when that happens at all. To admit that the only thing that matters is winning if that is indeed the case or to talk about things that may be more important than winning if such things exist.

Let me be clear about something: I have no idea what the correct answer to any of those questions is. If I were an owner I am not sure how I’d approach such matters and I certainly can’t speak for Hal Steinbrenner. For as repugnant as it may be to acquire a shady player, maybe it’s the right idea for a guy in Steinbrenner’s position to sign any player who isn’t incarcerated who can help the Yankees win. Maybe too many people depend on the team’s fortunes to make examples out of the Aroldis Chapmans of the world. Maybe it’s even worse for Chapman and the people he loves and who depend on him for him to be shunned or disparaged in ways Steinbrenner seems not to want to disparage him. I have no idea. These are truly tough questions to ask that go to the very heart of what we as sports fans want out of professional teams, the leagues in which they play and the players which they employ to be. Should they be moral examples? Are we hypocrites in expecting them to be? Are we complicit if we expect them not to be?

Again, I really don’t know the answers to those questions. But I really wish people like Hal Steinbrenner would bother to entertain them rather than blow them off with nonsense like “innocent until proven guilty,” which does nothing but lower the standard for a professional athlete’s conduct to the absolute bare minimum — only those who, beyond reasonable doubt have done something technically illegal shall be judged — without for one second admitting that by doing so he is lowering that standard.

The Marlins are moving in the fences

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins
Associated Press
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Back in August the Marlins talked about the possibility of moving in their fences to make their ballpark a bit more home run happy. They’re in the process of doing that now, and over at MLB.com the On Cloud Conine blog — nice name, BTW — there are some detailed pictures of the in-progress reconstruction of the outfield walls.

Center field around to right-center will see the most dramatic change, with walls coming in from a crazy 418 feet to a less-crazy 407. Moreover, all around the outfield the height of the walls will be reduced from 11.5 feet down to as low as 7 feet in height in some places, while remaining higher where preexisting video boards are in place. The lowest part of the wall will be in front of the Clevelander bar and its pool.

Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million deal last March, so figure this is part of the push to get him to not opt out of it. Beyond him, the Marlins were second-to-last in team home runs last year with only 120, so the changes will no doubt be welcome up and down the lineup.

Fernando Rodney signs with the Padres

Fernando Rodney
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This has been rumored for several days, with reports last week that the Padres were “closing in” on a deal for Fernando Rodney, but now it is actually happening: Jon Heyman reports that San Diego has an agreement with the ex-Cubs and Mariners closer.

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports that it’s a one-year deal with an option, which can max out to around $7 million with performance bonuses. Not too bad for a guy who, when he’s on, is pretty darn good.

Of course the issue is whether he’ll be on. Rodney posted a 5.68 ERA in 51 innings for the Mariners to begin last season, but then turned things around following a late-August trade to the Cubs. In Chicago he posted a 0.75 ERA and 15/4 K/BB ratio in 14 outings. Maybe that was a blip. Maybe he has quite a bit left and just needed a change of scenery.

Rodney is certainly positioned to rebuild his value in San Diego. While the Padres aren’t likely going to compete in 2016, he’ll likely have the closer role all to himself, what with Craig Kimbrel traded to Boston, Joaquin Benoit traded to Seattle and Brandon Maurer moved to the rotation. Basically, if there is a save to be had or blown, it’ll be Rodney’s to register it or blow it.

Expect Ryan Howard to be riding the pine against lefties in 2016

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Yesterday Phillies manager Pete Mackanin spoke to the media for the first time in 2016, and he made a point of saying that your reputation and your salary will have little bearing on how much playing time you get this coming season. Rather, if you hit, you will play. It’s that simple.

That goes specifically for Ryan Howard who, in a move most felt was long overdue, was finally benched against lefties when Mackanin took over as manager last season. Here’s Mackanin discussing the permanence of that move in Jim Salisbury’s report at CSNPhilly.com:

“I’m going to make that decision in the spring,” he said. “But at this point, I’m going to have a discussion with Ryan and tell him, ‘If you want to face lefties, you have to hit them better. If you don’t hit them better, I’m going to platoon.’ That’s basically what we’re looking at. It’s gotten to that point . . . It’s hard for me to justify not playing a guy who led the majors in OPS against lefties and that’s Darin Ruf. It’s hard for me not to play that guy if he’s sitting there and we’re trying to win games. And it could be helpful to Ryan because he’s getting older and (it would) keep him fresh.”

It’s hard to argue with that. It was only 114 plate appearances, but last year Ruf absolutely raked against lefties, hitting .371/.447/.660. For his career (288 plate appearances) he’s hit .300/.390/.556. Howard, meanwhile, had a .418 OPS against lefties in 107 plate appearances in 2015. For his career he’s hit .219/.296/.419 against them. It’s just not working and has never really worked particularly well.

The difference now: there is really no one around with an investment in Ryan Howard. Sure, the Phillies still owe him $25 million for 2016 and a $10 million buyout after the season ends, but the man who gave that deal to him and the managers who counted on his performance as a cornerstone of their job security are no longer in the organization. Everyone in a position of authority is able to move on. That moving on involves looking for a new first baseman and power hitter around whom to build a team and, in the meantime, getting as much performance from first base as possible, regardless of who the performer happens to be.

It seems like a no-brainer, then, to do a Howard/Ruf platoon, full-time.

Pete Rose to speak to award-winning high school athletes

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It’s been quite a week for Pete Rose so far. Yesterday the Reds announced that Rose will be inducted into their team Hall of Fame and will have his number retired this year, bypassing the usual election process. Probably because he’d be no sure thing to be elected under the usual procedures. But hey, you do such things for legends. ESPECIALLY in years when you know your team is going to stink and you want a guaranteed sellout on some day in June when you might only otherwise draw 16,257 fans, many disguised as seats.

Today we learn that Rose will get another honor of sorts: He will be the speaker at the inaugural Cincinnati Enquirer Greater Cincinnati High School Sports Awards, which honors All-Star high school athletes from southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky, as chosen by the Enquirer.

The athletes being honored get in to the dinner ceremony free. Their guests have to pay $50 a head. I’m sure getting a famous speaker like Pete Rose will help up the head count for the banquet, especially when you realize that it’s really for the paying guests, not the students, almost all of whom were born a decade after Rose was banished from the game. But hey, it’s for a noble cause:

The reason for the new awards is simple: High school athletics are central to life in our public, private and Catholic schools and in our communities. Whether it be Friday night at the football field or a Tuesday night in the gym for a girls basketball matchup, interscholastic sports promote achievement in our young people and passion among students, parents and alumni.

And who better to celebrate and speak about achievement and passion in youth sports than a guy who was banned from the sport he loves more than anything else in the world for unscrupulous behavior.